Cyclists Bear Down on Lance Armstrong Over Doping

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The New York Times reports that other cyclists are now backing Floyd Landis's doping allegations against seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong. Landis first accused his former teammate in May but, as a discredited rider himself, was deemed by the public to be rather unconvincing.

Now a Los Angeles grand jury is issuing subpoenas to other members of the former—and legendary—U.S. Postal team, with Armstrong's lawyers saying the government has been offering riders deals to testify against the cycling giant. This is high drama, both for the sporting world and for those accustomed to regarding Armstrong as a hero both on the road and off. Prosecutors must move fast: the Times points out that the "10-year statute of limitations on some of the charges they are investigating is set to expire next spring."

  • This Changes Things, remark USA Today's Reid Cherner and Tom Weir, articulating the thoughts of many. "When Floyd Landis lobbed doping allegations at Lance Armstrong it really wasn't much of a contest. Armstrong used the goodwill he had earned with his performance on the bike and his courage off of it, to portray Landis as having little credibility." Having other teammates backing Landis's story, though, is a whole different kettle of fish.
  • A Fond Farewell?  Ironically, Lance Armstrong was mentioned in Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme's editorial at the end of the race this year. Prudhomme commented that "Lance Armstrong faded into the background for good with dignity."
  • The Government Plays a Long Game  Jonathan Littman, observing at The Huffington Post that federal prosecutors have also recently announced a case against 46-year-old former outfielder Barry Bonds, for lying about steroids, writes that "The lesson for Lance is that if the Bonds case is any indication the government treats the doping trials of superstar athletes as marathons. Forget about Armstrong's famed endurance in winning seven Tours de France. Armstrong may have to out pedal his pursuers for nearly a decade."
  • Armstrong, Listen to Me: Lie to Us  Lance Armstrong is "alone among iconic athletes" accused of drug use in that he now "has a moral obligation to...keep denying," argues Andrew Corsello provocatively in the August issue of GQ. He thinks, fifty years from now, that a "nursemaid" attending to an aging Armstrong should smother him rather than letting him confess. 

Even if Livestrong [the Armstrong-based foundation raising millions for cancer research] weren't part of the picture, the Lance Armstrong story, by itself, might justify the Big and Long-standing Lie I Believe Armstrong Is Telling (BALLIBAIT). The world gave him cancer and a grim prognosis; a mere two and a half years later, post-chemo and sans-a-ball, he gave the world the first of his record seven Tour de France triumphs. It's not just the greatest comeback story in the history of sports. Its measure of suffering and heart and improbability and internationality and redemption and most of all purity elevates it to the level of archetype and parable ... The story creates a relationship between him and the world that is qualitatively different from that of any baseball, football, or track god ever suspected of being a dope cheat.

  • What We Know, What We Don't, What We Can Expect  ESPN's Lester Munson, writing July 29, pointed out that despite Armstrong's denials, the athlete did hire a criminal defense lawyer for the Los Angeles grand jury. Among other fascinating aspects of the investigation, Munson notes, is that it "does not appear to be aimed at those who used the blood transfusions and drugs, but instead at those who financed and facilitated the doping." We should expect to see, in the next few months and years, "negotiations for plea bargains and immunity," as well as "a subpoena for Armstrong to testify before the grand jury," coming towards the end of the investigation. Fascinating questions for observers to ponder: "Will he take the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify? Will he testify and risk a perjury charge?" Also: if Lance and others are guilty, "how did the doping riders escape detection?" Is drug testing utterly useless?
  • Showdown Between Armstrong and Novitzky  Munson also takes some time to talk about the man heading the investigation, the "brilliant and relentless Jeff Novitzky of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Novitzky is the former IRS agent who led the BALCO investigation." This, predicts Munson, will be "a battle royale":
Armstrong is, of course, the fiercest of competitors. Whether or not he was clean, seven consecutive victories in the Tour is clear and convincing evidence that he is one the greatest competitors in the history of sports. But Novitzky, too, is resourceful and relentless. He went through the garbage and medical waste at BALCO for more than a year to gather the evidence he needed to pursue the lab and its customers.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.